Posted by: Mike Willoughby | November 9, 2009

Living Life Courageously

Child_Reading_And_Praying

As I launched Intersections, it was my intention to spend the first few articles laying a faith foundation and then move quickly into a series of articles dealing with very practical day-to-day challenges we face in exercising our faith in real life.  I took my direction as to what is truly foundational from Jesus in Matthew 22.  When asked what about the most important command, Jesus responded with two commands, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”  I assume that you all love God or you wouldn’t be interested in the topic of exercising faith in real life.  However, I knew from the example of Jesus’ interaction with the man in the passage that I shouldn’t assume we are all in tune with the implications of His instructions to “love our neighbors.”  I know I need reminding of the importance of agapé love for others in my life.  So, the first three Intersections articles were on the subject of love for others.  I was about to move on to practical lessons with this article based on that foundation when I was sent in a different direction while reading a book on a plane to New York.

I picked up Lynn Anderson’s new book, They Smell Like Sheep: Volume Two in the ACU book store a couple of weeks ago.  His first volume, They Smell Like Sheep is a treasured source of wisdom for shepherds that I have read and re-read several times since I have been privileged to be called a shepherd by my congregation.  I had been looking forward to reading this sequel since I bought the book and this four hour flight was the perfect opportunity to dive into more of Lynn’s wisdom.  I was not disappointed.  The book is just as encouraging…  and convicting as the first volume.  Having now read Lynn’s book, I am convinced that a little more foundation building needs to be done before we move on.  The third chapter, A Heart on its Knees, reminded me that we cannot discuss exercising faith in any setting before talking about prayer.  I am grateful for the timing of this chapter of Lynn’s book in my life because my prayer life is a source of struggle for me and I imagine for some of you as well.  However, Lynn reminded me that my walk of faith is never to be traveled alone.  God does not intend for me to navigate this journey of faith without Him by my side and the primary way to fellowship with my God is through prayer.  So, let’s spend a little time in prayer.

Although I struggle with my own prayer life, I am constantly reminded of the power of prayer.  I am familiar with the many scriptures that clearly teach us how God moves through our petitions to Him.  I have seen the providence of God working in the lives of people who get on their knees to their Creator.  I have seen so many examples of hurting people ministered to and healed by the tender prayers of loving ministers and shepherds praying on their behalf.  The scriptures tell us emphatically that there is great power in the prayers of a righteous person while God also hears the prayers of very sinful people.  I am very grateful God hears the prayers of imperfect and sinful men!  I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer.  However, I also acknowledge that I am still very uncertain about how it actually works.

The Bible is very clear that God responds to my individual requests, which is quite frankly astounding to me.  How can the sovereign God of the universe possibly have any interest in my little world with its petty cares and concerns?  How can my petitions have any impact on a reality that is totally under the control of an omnipotent and omniscient God?  If the course of events unfolding around me is in accordance with His divine and perfect will (and they are), what place in the stream of time do my prayers have in affecting how things happen?  I must admit these are tough questions and I do not have the answers.  And yet the Bible is clear that I can have a role in the unfolding will of God.

Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”  That is quite a commitment God makes to us.  The book of James tells us to pray for Wisdom with confidence, pray for healing when sick and pray for forgiveness when we have stumbled.  Over and over the Bible encourages us to ask God for help and promises that He will listen.  It seems very clear that our sovereign God for reasons known only to Him allows us to participate in the completion of His will.  Rick Atchley, the preaching minister for the North Richland Hills Church of Christ says, “Our sovereign God often makes the sovereign choice to accomplish His will only when asked to do so. Some of God’s promises don’t happen because no one asked God for them to happen.”  Lynn Anderson writes, “Think about this. Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Surely he wants his kingdom to come; yet he taught us to pray for it. Could the kingdom seem to be so slow in coming because God’s people are so anemically praying for it to come? In fact, ‘Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,’ but he does not promise to give it until we ask him.”  It seems obvious that God is willing to do many things He will not necessarily be moved to do until we ask Him.  Is anyone else amazed and humbled by this realization that God allows us to work with Him to accomplish His will?  I am stunned every time I ponder this reality.

So why is the power of prayer so foundational that we need to consider it before we begin thinking of the practical challenges of living out our faith?  I think it is essential because we need help!  In fact, we need a lot of help!  My reason for starting this project in the first place was because I believe we need help from each other.  I need help from you and I hope you can be helped by me.  However, we all need help from God in ways we are unable to provide for each other.  The bottom-line is that in all areas of our life we can find success dealing with the challenges that confront us if we are energized and empowered by God through prayer.  Peter tells us that God will provide everything we need for life…  All we need to do is ask!

I’ll leave you with a line from a famous hymn by Love Maria Willis.

Father hear the prayer offer, not for ease our prayer shall be,
but for strength that we may ever live our lives courageously.

Next week, I want to write about the role of God’s Spirit working with us through prayer.  I think we need to spend a few more weeks building foundations but I think it will be worth the time.  In the meantime, if I can be of service to you by praying for you, please let me know.  My Tips from Mike page has instructions on how to send me a private prayer request that will not be published to the public.  I promise that if you ask me to pray for you I will honor your request and include your need in my personal prayers.  I will be honored to serve you in that way.

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

* Acknowledgement and thanks to Lynn Anderson for inspiring this article and supplying material from They Smell Like Sheep: Volume Two (Chapter 3)


Responses

  1. Mike, thank you for your openness and for telling us you don’t understand everything about prayer and how it all works to bring about God’s will for us. I don’t know how God does it, but I believe that He does!! Praise God for the gift of prayer and for the intimacy He invites us to share with Him. Beautiful post!

  2. Mike, we wanted to let you know that we are thoroughly enjoying your weekly writings; we appreciate your encouragement, your openness, your insight and your wisdom . . . Thank you!

    Many blessings ~ Bret & Krista Bronniman

  3. Mike, really like the thoughts on prayer and recommendation on Anderson’s 2nd volume of Smelling like Sheep, I loved the 1st one!

    I remember one of my early teachers, when I first came to faith, encouraging me to pray for those who I held unforgiveness towards. Pray for God to bless them. She said I would probably have to pray thru “gritted teeth” but over time God would change my heart towards them. And lo and behold she was right. I found it easier to forgive and truly desire God’s blessing on their life.

    Point being, I think God often uses prayer to change our hearts and conform our will to His.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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